Eddy Says

Eddy Says: Seeing red

By | Published on Tuesday 13 September 2011

Eddy TM

This week, Eddy Temple-Morris asks when and why it became acceptable to mock people simply for the colour of their hair. Can we trace back through history to the exact point in time when the strawberry blonde, the auburn, the, well, ginger people of the world started to be picked on? And are we on the verge of a world where, as in Victorian England, to be flame-haired is considered the height of cool?

I emerged from the Charing Cross Road exit of Leicester Square station, as usual, at around 11.45am one Thursday, to record the last hour of my show, when I was effectively hit by a lightning bolt. I saw a girl so beautiful, so utterly bewitching that I was stopped in my tracks. My jaw slackened and, in an uncharacteristic way, I just stood and stared. My body froze and only my neck swivelled as she crossed the street and sashayed into China Town.

She was the most gorgeous specimen of human being I’ve laid eyes on for years, dressed in black, like a James Bond girl, with fairy tale length hair swishing in the light breeze, and the hair, was bright, flamboyant, unmistakably, undeniably, ginger.

Other people were gobsmacked, too. I could see other guys’ necks swivelling in her direction. But if it had been a man, I thought, it would only be a matter of time before somebody shouted “GIIINGERRRRRRR!” at him.

Having this astonishing looking woman cross my path illuminated the ridiculousness of the whole ‘ginger’ thing. My mind went back to school days, and a poor, unfortunate kid called Steve, who was ridiculed for the simple fact that his hair was red. I got to thinking, when did it become OK to take the piss out of ginger people in that way? If it were for skin colour it would be called racism. Was there a point in history, a line after which this became acceptable?

At the same school where poor Steve was ridiculed with names like ‘copper-knob’, I studied history of art. During my studies I was taught about the British Victorian art movement, The Pre-Raphaelites, and loved a lot of what I saw from that collective. They almost worshipped red hair, their paintings were romantic, and often featured willowy, pale and beautiful women much like the girl I’d seen that day, all of whom were depicted with ginger hair.

The Pre-Raphaelites connected with society at the time and their paintings became the height of trendiness. In other words, just over a hundred years ago, being ginger was considered not only very cool, but the absolute zenith of beauty.

So, given these Pre-Raphaelite women were the paragon of loveliness, I was interested to know what went wrong, when and why? I did a little digging around, and still haven’t really found a definitive answer, but discovered some interesting things along the way.

Some historians trace ginger bashing to Roman times, and the Empire’s loathing of the people north of Hadrian’s Wall. Others find that hard to swallow and instead trace the gingerism, probably more plausibly, to the beginnings of Jacobite England, when (ironically the most famous ginger) monarch Liz The First died childless, making James VI of Scotland the King of England. No surprise, some of the English resented this unfortunately wispy haired ginger man from north of the border.

Still, I very much doubt that a flame-haired man, or woman, walking down an average high street would have incurred the now familiar sing-song taunt of ‘GINNNGE-ER-RRRRRR!’ from a random passer by on an ox-drawn cart.

Hundreds of years later, and the First World War, ‘Ginger’ was a totally innocent name for some men. The interesting thing was the absence of malice at this point. It was just a name, like ‘Chalkie’ for somebody who’s surname was White or ‘Lofty’ for someone tall.

The point at which malice entered the equation, according to a swift poll I conducted on Facebook, was the mid 1970s. That was the earliest anybody I know could remember that it was acceptable to take the piss, in a more cruel way, out of people with red hair.

The current state of play doesn’t look good for gingers, from Catherine Tate’s hilarious Russett Lodge sketch, to South Park’s typically unashamed announcement that ginger people have no soul, which gave rise to one of the internet’s funniest over-reactions, to more recent and twisted MIA video. And all this even though some of the coolest people in the world are ginger!

I wonder if Josh Homme, from Queen’s Of The Stone Age has ever been shouted at in the street? Or Damian Lewis, the blisteringly cool British actor most famous for his brilliantly authentic portrayal of an American platoon commander in ‘Band Of Brothers’. I talked to ginger friends and colleagues about it. Interestingly, many of them, including Photek, one of the coolest producers to ever push a fader, suggested the piss-taking had made them stronger, more resilient, or even more rebellious.

History proves these things to be cyclical, so if you’re a ginger-hater, careful, because the wheel could be close to turning full circle.

As the Labour Party rebranded ‘New Labour’ in the 90s, I can see the dawning of a ‘New Ginger’ movement, where people’s perceptions will shift and the possession of red hair will no longer be a handicap but a benefit. In fact, the backlash has already begun, thanks to Tim Minchin.

But I think there’s an even better candidate for the figurehead of such a movement. Someone younger, who can lead simply by being effortlessly cool. That person is on X-posure with John Kennedy tonight on Xfm from 10pm. His name is Ed Sheeran, and he’s been given a day pass from Russet Lodge to go through his debut album track-by-track with my colleague.

Joking aside, I love everything this man has done so far. And you can find out why I think his sound is so exciting by tuning into 104.9FM in London, 97.7FM in Manchester, Sky channel 113, or by logging on to Xfm.co.uk tonight.

X eddy